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Sailing the Streets of Boston with a Pirate
It's a sunny July afternoon in Boston's historic Quincy Market. Vendors are entertaining passers-by with their unusual wares (a purse made entirely of zippers! a skirt-dress that you can wear ten different ways!), the scent of clam chowder wafts from a nearby seafood restaurant, and nearby stores like Abercrombie & Fitch and The Loft are advertising their midsummer sales.
Standing in the middle of it all, attracting curious glances from strolling shoppers and hungry tourists, is a pirate — a real one — from the top of his tricorn hat and his dark blue doublet, down to his brown breeches and knee-high leather boots. A don't-mess-with-me sword, pistol and axe are slung around his large belt, completing the costume.
And he's yelling my name, right in the middle of Quincy Market. Hollering, actually, with a few pirate cusses thrown in for good measure.
"Kristin! Ye scurvy dog, where are ye? KRISTIN!"
Okay, so I am running late, having dashed away at the last minute to raid an ATM. Apparently Captain Nick, who's about to start the Pirates and Patriots Tour of Boston's Freedom Trail, doesn't take kindly to stragglers, as he informs me when I breathlessly arrive.
"Ye be on my Bad List," he growls (jokingly, I hope), to the immense amusement of my kids and the other folks on the tour, then turns and leads the way toward Faneuil Hall. My kids are giggling madly ("Mom! you're a scurvy dog!") as we trail behind our new 18th-century friend. The Pirate Tour has begun.
For the next two hours, our group follows Captain Nick from one waterfront location to the next, listening to his tales of Revolutionary-era patriots: Sam Adams and the founding of the Sons of Liberty; John Hancock, the wealthy merchant who outwitted British customs agents; Massachusetts Spy publisher Isaiah Thomas, who was betrayed by his unfaithful wife and farmer-turned-British spy Benjamin Thompson. One amusing story came when we visited the former offices of Ebenezer Hancock, the younger (and vastly poorer) brother of John, who was also the stingy comptroller of the Revolution's funds. He was so infamous for his “skinflintery” that he became the inspiration for Charles Dickens' character Ebenezer Scrooge.
And then there were the pirates. At Faneuil Hall, Nick begins the tale of the unfortunate Captain Kidd, betrayed by the governor who employed him and hung at the Tower of London, who had buried his treasure in hidden spots around New England, including (as the stories go) on the island now covered over by Boston's airport. Then we learned of John Foster Williams, a privateer (government-sanctioned pirate) contracted during the Revolution by George Washington himself to attack and plunder British ships. Williams was caught and escaped from the British three separate times, including a daring escape from the Tower of London "that would've made Jack Sparrow proud," according to Captain Nick. Williams went on to become the first commandant of the Coast Guard. Among the many other pirate tales Nick told, one of my favorites was the story of Black Sam Bellamy, the "Robin Hood" of pirates, and his beautiful love Maria Hallet. Maria watched in agony as Black Sam's ship, the Wydah, wrecked just off the Massachusetts coast in a Nor'easter as he was finally heading home to her after years of separation.
And, perhaps best of all from my "let's hope the kids learn a thing or two" ulterior motives, we visited the historical sites. On a busy city street, Captain Nick tells us in his pirate brogue that we are standing at the location of the Boston Massacre, then goes on to explain how it went down (turns out it started with some American sailor vs. British soldier hostility). Our tour concludes by visiting Griffin's Wharf, the site of the Tea Party, where Nick retells the story of how the tea was dumped into the harbor in a way that no history book could ever match.
I don't know whether I ever made it off Captain Nick's Bad List. Then again, as my kids and I followed him from site to site, story to story, listening in complete captivation and relishing every detail, I'd like to think maybe I redeemed myself a little. Which is a good thing, since it turns out that his sword was real.
Public tours are offered daily at 12:30 p.m. from the ArtsBoston/Bostix Booth at Faneuil Hall. For information or tickets, visit www.freedom.org or call 617.357.8300. Tickets available online here.